In an age of advanced weapons technology and infinite choice, few things are more rewarding than heaving a bamboo spear at a dinosaur. Who knew? King Kong, an adaptation of the bloated film, is a breathtaking, non-stop adventure.
You mostly play the role of Jack Driscoll, the writer behind the film that the conniving Carl Denham (Jack Black) is trying to make on Skull Island. But instead of putting pen to page, you'll be filling prehistoric creatures full of lead in a desperate fight for your life; not to mention the lives of the other hapless members of Denham's abortive film production. This crew is recreated excellently in the game as genuinely helpful and interesting characters: rare qualities in computer-controlled partners.
While you don't have to search the store shelves to find a game that lets you shoot things from a first-person perspective, you would have to search hard to find one that offers up the sense of adventure present in King Kong. Rather than pure combat, the developers put the emphasis on short bursts of action and puzzle solving in ever-changing, always-breathtakingly gorgeous locations.
No matter what platform you're playing on, King Kong 's visuals won't disappoint. The PS2 is pushed to its limits to display the large, gorgeous environments, sometimes slowing down at more frenetic moments. The GameCube and Xbox manage to keep up the pace. This is very much an end-of-generation title, and pushes the current systems to their limits.
Of course Xbox 360 is the way to go if you have the money; with hi-def visuals and much-improved clarity in the environmental artwork, it's a winner, though so dark it's sometimes difficult to see what's going on.
In fact, the only version that isn't a little darker than it needs to be is the PC version, which allows for excellently precise and quick aiming with the mouse but is otherwise a bare-bones console port. If you do choose to go PC, you'll want a gamepad for the bits where you play as Kong.
Exploring the island and fighting off its ferocious inhabitants, or even cowering in a cave while huge dinosaurs sniff the air for your blood, keeps the game exhilarating from beginning to end. There are even raft rides. While you're running the rapids, flaming spear in hand, you'll have to pick off the island's human inhabitants by burning their rickety scaffolds. It's a continually satisfying adventure that gets harder as it goes, yet rarely becomes frustrating.
There are also several scenes in which the action shifts to a third-person viewpoint, where you play as Kong himself. There's a real sense of exhileration as the monstrous ape swings through the jungle, effortlessly catching tree limbs and moss-covered rock walls, and occasionally bashing the teeth right out of a T-rex wannabe's maw. The huge gorilla's sense of weight is unexpectedly real: every hit feels massive and every swing is powerful. These scenes quickly become predictable, but they're so attractive and polished, not to mention infrequent, that it doesn't become a bother.
This is adventure done right. Though there are only a few different types of weapons or puzzles, each is metered out enough that you'll never become bored of them. With a cast of characters that fills you in on the story as you play instead of boring you with cutscenes, and an ever-changing, never-repeating island environment, the whole thing has a sweep and grandeur very rarely achieved by games. It's simply good fun from beginning to end - like an unexpectedly violent Disneyland ride.